Sunday, July 3, 2011

Big ol' Trip: Day Two

Lyman Lake Campground - Okanogan County

Flammulated Owls!

I woke up at 2? 3? 4?  to the sound of three Flammulated Owls having a conversation with each other at Lyman Lake Campground.  I wasn't sure which owls I might hear on the trip, and hadn't chosen this campsite in particular for the owls, but they were calling away, each on a slightly different pitch, but on a monotone: Hoo Hoohoo.....Hoohoo Hoo...  Hoo Hoohoo.... Hoohoo Hoo.  Were there more owls waiting for me on the trip?  I had a chance for Boreal, Great Gray, and Burrowing along the way, but I just enjoyed this morning with the owls.  They also destroyed my sleep pattern for the rest of the week - ah well.

I think these were Barrow's Goldeneyes
Before leaving Okanogan County, I had some business to settle with some woodpeckers.  I had four species that I had not seen, and I had GPS coordinates for sightings for a couple of those.  That's got to be cheating!  Too easy...! 

So I packed up the tent, and listened to the morning chorus (Flammulated Owl, Virginia Rail, Western Wood-Peewee, American Robin, Willow Flycatcher, Evening Grosbeak, Northern Flicker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cassin's Finch, Mountain Chickadee, Western Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Siskin, Common Yellowthroat, and a few lingering Common Nighthawks), and watched a little family of Goldeneyes on the lake below. 

"Arriving at Williamson's Sapsucker... on left", chirped Jill, and I pulled the car over on the side of the forest road.  It was a beautiful little spot, and many of the birds listed above were singing away - still a little before six.  Sapsuckers give different calls, but are different variations on "queeyahh", sometimes more clear or more nasal.  When they drum, it's usually in little bursts. 

I walked the area a bit, and had distant drumming off of the road.  A path led me closer to the drumming... but these woodpeckers this morning were taking such long breaks between drums, and were always just a bit too far off.  I gave it a pass after about 15-20 minutes of striking out, and swung back by the campground.  I was listening for White-headed Woodpecker as well, and thought I heard something interesting, but it turned out to be a juvenile Flicker. 

Back to the road!  I wanted to make it down the rest of Aeneas Valley Road to the fabled Sanpoil River Valley!  I drove along, and was happy with the nice views, and more bluebirds played on the fences as I went.  At about 6:30, I passed a home with lots of hummingbird feeders out.  Great stop!  Not only did I get to watch two hummingbirds that we don't usuallly have on the west side (Calliope and Black-chinned), but I heard my first singing Veery.  With these birds, the Okanogan year list went over 50, making it a little easier to miss a winter trip here this year.

Thrushes are my favorite birds, hands down, especially when they're singing. While Varied Thrushes are my absolute favorites, Hermit Thrushes are close behind.  Veeries have an interesting song!  A Swainson's Thrush (very common on both side of the mountains) has a fluting song that spirals upwards, and a Veery does the opposite - fluting and spiralling downwards.  I listened to it in the distance, and watched the hummingbirds, as well as a Mountain Bluebird that was visiting their yard.  Coffee was still waiting for me though, so I kept going down the road.

The view from the worst road on my trip.  Not a bad place
to get a flat, I suppose. :)
The Aeneas Valley Road, as it continues towards Highway 21, starts to get a little rough.  At some point, I decided that this was not a road.  It looked like someone's driveway.  The thought that immediately followed was "Dude!  Fix your driveway!  Someone's going to get killed!"  A little more clearance with the Pontiac would have been nice.  There were more than a few rocks that I didn't quite clear, and some rough patches.  This may have been the longest stretch of crappy road that I had to drive on the whole trip.

Into Ferry County

Dude, fix your driveway

Gold Creek
I finally hit a clear stretch, and pulled the car over into a nice wide shoulder.  I think now, looking at the map, that this was where the road changed to be Gold Creek Road in Ferry County.  I got some food out - a granola bar, and an apple - and listened to the songs:  Evening Grosbeak, Robin Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Western Wood-Peewee, Chipping Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Towhee, Dusky Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, Townsend's Warbler, and another one of the warbler sisters.  I had careful notes again, and on my return, listening to some bird songs online, I got them nailed down as Nashville Warblers.  But this was the point where I started to lose my interest in doing this with warblers.  Pishing was not bringing them out to where I could see them, and the songs started to vary.

Wild Turkeys
Getting to Highway 21 was a very happy moment.  I knew now that Republic was not far away, and I was on a well-maintained road.  I considered a turn south to better spots in the Sanpoil River Valley, but I'd had such a good stop earlier, that I decided to move on.  Today was supposed to be Ferry and Stevens Counties.  The goal was to make it through Ferry and get a good start on Stevens, so that I could wrap it up quickly the next day, and have a  lot of time in Pend Oreille.  So I pushed on to Republic.  Even so, I got some more birds on the way, including some Wild Turkeys crossing the road.

Republic - Ferry County

We had come to Republic a few summers ago - why?  Fossil digging!  The Stonerose Interpretive Center was very cool - we got a fossilized leaf after a whole lot of rock smashing against a hot hillside.  The plants here were fossilized in ancient lake beds following volcanic activity. 

I stopped in town, got a cup of coffee or two, while clearing up things on my checklists.  I hadn't really seen any ducks, so I made a trip Northwest of town to Mud Lake.
Mud Lake, Nortwest of Republic
Here at Mud Lake, I saw some of the ducks that leave the Seattle area for the summer.  Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks breed over here much more frequently, and I found both at this lake.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds were also making their crazy chainsaw sounds.

White Mountain Burn
From there, I went back up Highway 20 into the mountains again.  This range is the Kettle Range, in between the Cascades and the Selkirks in Northeast Washington, and the high point on Highway 20 is Sherman Pass.  I stopped before the pass at the White Mountain Burn.  The view was beautiful, the Hermit Thrushes were singing, as was an Olive-sided Flycatcher, another high-elevation bird.  Another stop nearby at the interpretive walk gave me my Ferry County Gray Jays, and a Red-naped Sapsucker, as well as a flock of Red Crossbills chipping overhead.  As I passed Sherman Pass, I could hardly believe that I had planned to reach this spot by sundown the night before.  While I had no iPod to pull them in, I can do a pretty good Pygmy-Owl whistle, and this was enough to pull in a Hermit Thrush for a picture.
Hermit Thrush - White Mountain Burn

My last stop in Ferry County was Bangs Mountain Road.  I had met up with another birder who had found a Boreal Chickadee here, likely nesting.  I made a few stops, and didn't find the Chickadee, but I did hear a booming grouse, which in this part of the state would have to be a Dusky Grouse, another life bird!  This was also a point where I can see my notes were deteriorating.  I have American Redstart written down, but no other notes next to it.  I know right now that I was getting close to the end of my rope with warblers at this point... it's not one that was going on my permanent list, even though it made it onto my list that morning.  This was a beautiful stop, though, and with more time, I'd have made the trip to the top.  But it was time to cross the Columbia!

Kettle Falls - Stevens County

The Columbia River crossing from Ferry to Stevens County
I made it into Stevens county, and noted a pigeon flying overhead, and some swallows... but I was getting a little road weary - stop for a little, look at some birds, stop for a little, look at some birds, stop for a little, look at some birds.  I was also a bit beat from the early morning wakeup call from the owls.  I made a decision at that point that I'd try to clean up Stevens County all in one place - Little Pend Oreille NWR.  I made this decision over an ice cream cone at Kettle Falls (where I added up my list for Ferry county (51!), then got high-tailing it through Colville to Little Pend Oreille.

Little Pend Oreille NWR

I got to Little Pend Oreille... not the way I would have gone, Jill... (I look over at Mappy, my gazetteer, and he agrees with me, just shaking his head).  I set up my tent a little on the early side (2 or 3 in the afternoon), and had some bizarre notion that I was going to take a nap in that tent before taking on Stevens County.  Ten seconds inside that oven of a tent made it clear that it was not going to happen.  I got in my car;  Too hot for a nap.  I rolled the windows down;  Too many stinging insects (oh lord, these scare me... you have no idea...), so I resigned, left the tent, and started birding the refuge.
There were a lot of birds here!  I drove the refuge loop, and stopped at McDowell Lake (empty except for a  coot), and looked over all of the trees carefully hoping for one of the woodpeckers that had been eluding me (White-headed, American Three-toed, and Black-backed had all been seen in recent weeks).  All of those woodpeckers continued to elude me, and I found I actually did want a change of scenery after a few hours, so I set off for the little town of Valley.

A coworker of mine makes regular visits to a family cabin in Valley, and I all but promised I'd stopped in.  There were also reports of some birds like Lark Sparrow that I hoped to see (although I didn't have the directions I needed, in the end!), it was still nice to head through town.  I was hoping to make a stop at the Valley Cafe, but it was closed.  As I drove through and snapped some pictures, I had an odd incident.  I thought I saw a crow, but I wasn't sure, and didn't have time to stop and check. 

Of all things, a crow was an interesting bird here!  I always think of crows as birds that need lots of people, lots of company, but in the end, they find other crows here in Valley, and they find things that feed them.  There's a cool idea buried in there that I pondered during much of the evening, but even now, it's hard to quite put that into words.  (At times like this, I wish I was a poet, like my coworker.)  It's tied to the question - "Are you like a crow in Seattle, or a crow in Valley?"  Something to think about.  At any rate, I wasn't letting a crow slip by next time I passed one!  It somehow felt right to go have some Chinese food in Chewelah at this point, so I did.

On the way back into the refuge, I followed my own directions, while Jill recalculated and begged me to take U-Turns.  Not even a word of apology when the estimated arrival time suddenly dropped by ten minutes.  Mappy just smiled quietly on the passenger seat.  I also had a chance to pass another small lake that had Red-necked Grebes, another bird that is only seen briefly with its red neck on the West Side, but breeds over here. 
I finished the day with 61 birds in Stevens County, with 53 of them at little Pend Oreille.  Number 62 came the next morning - a crow in Colville.  So I had all of the next day in Pend Oreille county, and much of the day after (I just needed to get to Garfield County in time to set up my tent that evening).  So at this point, I wondered if I could find 100 species in Pend Oreille before I left... Went to bed with pieces of plans coming together.

Nearly everywhere in Stevens County looks like this, I swear.  It was so beautiful.

Small-flowered Tiger Lily


  1. Thx for documenting and sharing this report of your trek around Washington - we've got both kids at camp in early August and you've got us enthused about doing something similar this year!

  2. Awesome! If you have the time to string the days together, it's amazing - This could have been seven different multiday trips, just to get to the places and then back, so I think the Big Ol' Birding Trip is a good plan indeed. :)

    Breeding birds will be singing a little less, but in August, you start to get shorebirds coming through, and some interesting migrants at those cool little migrant traps in Eastern Washington. There will also be more roads open farther up into the high places of Pend Oreille County and into the Blue Mountains. The days will be about an hour shorter, so you'll 'only' be able to do 16 hour days or so, but that could be a blessing!

    I hope you do it, and that a trip report goes up on the listsrvs!